Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lying journalism school head

Why am I not surprised?

Faculty at Northwestern University's journalism school said Tuesday that they "are deeply troubled" about their dean's use of anonymous sources in his alumni magazine columns and called on him to provide proof that he didn't fabricate the quotes. A statement signed by 16 Medill School of Journalism instructors, along with a letter they wrote to Medill Dean John Lavine, comes after a columnist for The Daily Northwestern, the student newspaper, questioned Lavine's use of anonymous quotes in two introductory letters Lavine wrote for the Medill alumni magazine last year.

The two-page statement, signed by tenured faculty members as well as contract lecturers, also was given to Northwestern President Henry Bienen and Provost Daniel Linzer, the letter stated. "This matter has become a crisis for the school," the statement said. "The principles of truthfulness and transparency in reporting are at the core of Medill's professional and academic mission."

Northwestern's office of the provost is reviewing Lavine's use of unnamed sources and "the veracity of the quotations," according to a statement by spokesman Al Cubbage, who declined to comment further. In addition, students and alumni joined the new "Save Journalism at Medill" group on Facebook. On Tuesday afternoon, there were nearly 90 members of the group, which was created to discuss "concerns about the issue of the dean's anonymous sourcing, as well as other recent changes in the journalism school."

At issue are two columns Lavine wrote in Medill's alumni magazine. In a column in last spring's magazine about a class in which students developed "a fully integrated marketing program," Lavine quoted "a Medill junior" saying: "I sure felt good about this class. It is one of the best I've taken." In the same piece, Lavine quotes "one sophomore" who glowingly praises a new reporting program, concluding, "This is the most exciting my education has been."

Lavine's use of anonymous quotes seemed suspicious to David Spett, a Medill senior and Daily Northwestern columnist. He said he figured out which marketing class Lavine had mentioned and then tracked down all 29 students. Each denied making the "I sure felt good" comment, his column stated.

At Medill, one of the country's premier journalism schools, professors emphasize that unnamed sources should be used sparingly, in line with professional media standards. Students routinely are required to submit names and contact information for every person quoted in their articles as a guard against fabrication.

Lavine, 67, told the Tribune last week that the quotes in his columns "came from real people," though he couldn't recall whether they were provided by e-mail or during face-to-face conversations. He said he writes student comments in a reporter's notebook he carries and also receives comments by e-mail. He said comments from that time period have been deleted.

He defended his use of anonymous quotes by drawing a distinction between a news story and a letter to alumni in a magazine. "Context is all-important. I wasn't doing a news story. I wasn't covering the news," Lavine said. "When I write news stories, I am as careful and thorough about sources as anyone you will find. . . . This is not a news story. This is a personal letter."

That argument didn't sit well with some journalism faculty members, who called the explanation "at best inadequate," according to their statement. "It is wrong to argue that the forum in which the questionable quote was used, the school's alumni magazine, is not subject to the same standards as other publication venues," according to the statement.

Medill professor Donna Leff said law and ethics instructors first broached the idea of issuing a statement. The position statement then circulated to a larger pool of professors, Leff said, many of whom felt it was important to take a public stand. "This is not something that played out in the newspaper as though it were an internal matter. It's a newspaper matter that then got played out in school," said Leff, who teaches media law and ethics, science writing and urban reporting. "We're actually asking him exactly what we would ask of any reporter if we were the editor." The faculty requested a meeting with Lavine, Bienen and Linzer.

Lavine also defended his writings in an e-mail to faculty in response to the Feb. 14 Tribune story, saying that the quotes "are what students told me." "They are real quotes, a fact that was demonstrated by my including in my letter to the alumni a link to a student video that showed students making the same kind of points," Lavine wrote. "There was no shortage of material from students for these quotes." Of the 16 instructors who signed the letter, 10 are full-time professors while the remainder are lecturers or retired faculty members. There are 51 full-time Medill faculty members.


Britain: Privileged children excel, even at low-performing "comprehensive" schools

Charles Murray pointed out long ago that richer people have higher IQs and that IQ is the main factor in educational attainment. What the report below skates over is the safety concerns many British parents have about sending their children to "sink" schools

Middle-class parents obsessed with getting their children into the best schools may be wasting their time and money, academics say today. They found that children from privileged backgrounds excelled when they were deliberately sent to inner-city comprehensives by parents opposed to private schooling. Most of the children "performed brilliantly" at GCSE and A level and 15 per cent of those who went on to university took places at Oxford or Cambridge.

To give their children "the best start in life", many parents choose to live in catchment areas of high-performing schools, "find God" to gain their child a place at a faith establishment or make financial sacrifices to pay for their child's independent schooling. However, the researchers decided to analyse the progress of the offspring of "those white, urban, middle-class parents who consciously choose for their children to be educated at their local state secondary, whatever the league table positioning".

This group attended average or poorly performing schools in working-class or racially mixed areas. Here they thrived academically and were often given special attention by teachers keen to improve the school's results, according to the study by professors in education from the universities of Cambridge, Sunderland and West of England (UWE).

The only failure was in social integration, which had been the very reason most parents sent their child to the school. Most children from middle-class families mixed only with pupils from identical backgrounds. The research found "segregation within schools, with white middle-class children clustered in top sets, with little interaction with children from other backgrounds".

Professor David James, from UWE, said: "But we wanted to discover what motivates parents who instead choose to send their children to local comprehensives that appear to be performing poorly. "Most children who had this choice made for them have gone on to perform brilliantly in GCSEs, A levels and then on to university entrance, including a much higher than average entry to Oxbridge."

The researchers interviewed 124 families from London and two other cities. Eighty-three per cent of the parents had degrees and a quarter were educated to postgraduate level. They included three Labour Party activists and two who worked in a social exclusion research unit. In 70 per cent of families, one or both parents worked in the public sector. Most described themselves as left-wing or liberal.

The report found: "Some parents were motivated by a commitment to state-funded education and egalitarian ideals and many had an active dislike for privileged educational routes on the grounds that they were socially divisive. Many wanted their children to have an educational experience that would prepare them for a globalised, socially diverse world. "These parents positioned themselves in a way we termed `a darker shade of pale', as part of a more culturally tolerant and even anti-racist white middle class. "They felt strongly that higher-achieving schools would not provide the kind of experience of the `real world' that their children needed."

However, the researchers said such parents did not consider that they were sacrificing their children's education, with many seeing it as a worthwhile, if risky, strategy. "Many parents said they could and would pull out if things did not go well," the report said. Some parents who attended privileged schools made the choice as a "conscious reaction to their own schooling". Others wanted their children "to compete in ordinary circumstances". It added: "Anxiety was not absent, especially when their children were attending schools that were pathologised - or even demonised - by other white middle-class parents."

But even though those sending their children to comprehensives were open and tolerant of other backgrounds, in some cases researchers noted "elitism and a sense of intellectual and social superiority - a sense that would be confirmed by their own child's relative success".


Australia: Othello becomes a tragedy of the system

LITERATURE, the soul of the English language, has been marginalised by ideology and social theory in its study in schools and universities. Reader in English at the Australian National University Simon Haines said the literature part of the subject English had been squashed and marginalised during the past 30 years, pushed aside to teach theories from other disciplines. "Literature is the heart of English and if we're not doing that, then the subject loses its soul," he said after addressing the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney yesterday.

Dr Haines said university academics in English and literature over the past two generations had "colonised" other disciplines such as anthropology, sociology and linguistics. As a result, it had become the attitude in English schools to question the primacy of the text in the belief that the text should be used to illustrate theories from the other disciplines. "And so Othello has become a tragedy of race rather than a tragedy of jealousy," he said. "It hasn't always been; up until the 1960s, it was a tragedy of jealousy. "It's not the teachers' fault - they're just reflecting what they've heard for two generations in universities, which is that literature as core of the subject English is in the end dispensable and theoretical."

Dr Haines is the director for the ANU of the International Centre for Human Values, a joint venture with the Chinese University in Hong Kong. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University and is a former diplomat and analyst with the Office of National Assessments, and was chairman for three years of the OECD budget committee before pursuing a career in academia.

Dr Haines said the English syllabus in schools had become much more crowded over the past three or four decades. "It's all the more reason not to dilute English with other disciplinary or ideological approaches. There just isn't time," he said. "The best you can hope to have is an understanding of the context of the play, so you don't want to narrow it down into one ideological approach. What you get then is a teacher who doesn't understand Marxism and feminist theory as thoroughly as a university academic trying to give students a half-baked version at the same time as teaching Othello. Students end up with a mishmash.

"By all means study Marxist theory when you're at university, where you can study it thoroughly, but don't try to do it in a half-baked way at school." Dr Haines said in this way, Othello had become a tragedy of race not jealousy, which makes the play narrower, more polemical and ideological than Shakespeare intended.


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